Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

The survey found that young people wanted to see the role religion played in government reassessed. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 30 April 2019

Religion plays too big a role in the lives of young Arabs, survey reveals

  • Young Arabs believe that drugs are too freely available in society
  • Three quarters of young Saudis say they are optimistic about their futures

DUBAI: Young Arabs believe religion plays too big a role in their lives and want their religious institutions reformed, according to the latest annual survey of attitudes of young people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Young Saudi citizens also believe overwhelmingly that the Kingdom - under the Vision 2030 strategy - is heading in the right direction, and that its economy is on track, the ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, unveiled today, reveals.

Young Saudis demonstrate optimism in their personal future, with three quarters of those polled saying that they will have a better life than their parents, and only 10 per cent expecting to be worse off.

The 11th annual survey is based on 3,300 interviews with Arabs between the ages of 18-24, split equally between men and women, in January this year.

Perhaps the most eye-catching finding in the 2019 survey is that young Arabs seem to want a reduced role for religion in their lives. Some 66 per cent of those polled said that religion plays too big a role, with an even bigger number - 79 per cent - calling for reform of their religion’s institutions.

The findings come as the Arab News series “Preachers of Hate” explored the destructive influence religious extremists have had on society.

Half said religion was holding the region back, while nearly the same proportion said religion was losing its influence in the region - a finding especially pronounced in North Africa and the Levant.

Young Arabs are also increasingly tired of war and civil strife. A big majority - nearly three quarters - believe the war in Syria should end regardless of the regime in power there. But another big majority remain concerned about the Palestine-Israel conflict. Nearly 60 percent believe that Sunni-Shia relations have deteriorated over the past ten years.

In international relations, 59 percent view the USA as an enemy, while 37 percent see Russia as a strong ally, almost as many view America the same say (38 percent).

Most of those polled - around 60 percent - say the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would have no or only temporary impact on Saudi Arabia’s image around the world.

Most young Arabs think the rising cost of living is the biggest obstacle facing the Middle East, and many - 65 percent - say they want their governments to do more for them, especially in education and healthcare.

The survey also included for the first time questions about youth attitudes to drugs and mental illness, with a large number of respondents saying that illegal drug use was on the rise and drugs were easy to obtain. Mental health is an increasingly important issue, with nearly one third saying they knew someone who was suffering from mental health problems.

Sunil John, president of Asda’a BCW, said: “This year’s findings show that youths are looking at their governments to reshuffle their priorities, especially when it comes to the role played by religion and seemingly endless conflicts – and they want to see change.

“Young Arabs who have grown up against a backdrop of extremism and geopolitical conflicts are tired of the region being defined by war and conflict. They say they want their leaders to focus on the economy and providing better services such as quality education and healthcare.”


Six Flags: “We will break records for the fastest, biggest and longest rides.”

Updated 6 min 18 sec ago

Six Flags: “We will break records for the fastest, biggest and longest rides.”

  • Speaking at the Misk Global Forum, Centola said the efforts made for Qiddiyah would make it the city of the future
  • The Oscar-winner and mind behind the “Born a King” biopic of King Faisal explained that the story of the Saudi monarch was a great external promotion for the Kingdom

RIYADH: Mario Centola, the vice president of international operations and business development at Six Flags Entertainment, said government support for Qiddiyah was facilitating expansion that would help the company attract tourists and business to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at the Misk Global Forum, Centola stated his firm was aiming to build “the biggest, fastest, longest, steepest roller coaster by far in the world ... you will only get to experience that type of ride and this type of park right outside Riyadh.”

He explained during his participation in a session at the forum, entitled “Entertainment is serious business,” that the efforts made for Qiddiyah would make it the city of the future, pointing out that the latest technology would be in every part of the city.

He mentioned how innovation in the Kingdom was creating great job opportunities, especially in the field of entertainment, and he called on Saudis to seize the opportunities ahead of them.

Also speaking, the Spanish producer and CEO of Lola Films, Andrés Gomes, pointed out that his relationship with Saudi Arabia began 10 years ago.

The Oscar-winner and mind behind the “Born a King” biopic of King Faisal explained that the story of the Saudi monarch was a great external promotion for the Kingdom, given its international storyline, with 70 percent of its events taking place in the UK.

“We have to make films that people like … Saudi Arabia should be very careful to not be invaded by foreign cultures for your movies and TV,” he said.

“Of course, you have not had the time to develop your own productions, but that’s what you have to ask your government for — you have to ask for support.”

Shinji Shimizu, senior director and producer at Toei Animation, talked about his own first visit to Saudi Arabia a decade ago, and his vision of the interest of young Saudis in Japanese animators.

“Animation was established 63 years ago. I had been working with the company for 42 years … Japanese animation was gradually enjoyed by young people, by lots of people.

“Young people are very talented and they absorb very quickly, and they want to express Saudi culture. We are working with a Japanese crew and we are having a tremendously enjoyable time together.”

Alabbas Bin Alabbas, the founder of Alsahar Animation, stressed the importance of this period for the Saudi people, as the country opens up to entertainment and the arts, stressing the importance of animation as a magnet for children, in addition to the great energy that exists among young people encouraged and supported by the government.

“I think now it’s our turn to contribute to the world, to show who we are, what our stories are,” he said.